Monday, 19 March 2012

ideal home show - 2012

I haven't been to the Ideal Home Show for a couple of years, but I thought this year was a good time to investigate what's new and report back. The show is, of course, clearly aimed at home owners, but as well as checking out what's new I wanted to see if there were any ideas or products on offer that could be relevant to renters, I also can't resist snooping round the show houses and room sets.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide and I'm sure I didn't manage to visit every stand, but I hope it serves as a good overview if you're planning a visit and if not, I'll provide links to the exhibitors websites do you can still check out my highlights.

Attending on the opening day involved waiting for Prince Charles to officially open the show so there was a bit of pomp involved, what with the full brass band and celebrity speeches. This years opening had a very special purpose though, as throughout the show the Homes For Heroes charity is being promoted, a worthy cause indeed.

To avoid the lengthy queues later on, we headed straight for the show homes for a nosey round. I had high hopes for the Santiago Town House, billed as the modern successor to its Regency & Georgian counterparts. It certainly looked promising from the outside, with a pleasing design and huge floor to ceiling windows. The trouble with these built-for-exhibition- type show houses is that the layout of rooms often has to be adapted to allow for the flow of visitors. I was hoping for some demonstrations of clever ideas for small space living here, but with even the best imagination, entering on the ground floor where the bedroom appears to be IN the kitchen, is more than a little odd. There's open plan and then there's barking mad. Unfortunately, the latter applied to the first flat. 

The whole four story house (the first in the show's history) was light and airy and on the whole very appealing to most people. However, there was nothing new here, it was all a bit too perfect, too slick and ever so slightly clinical. The furniture was fine, but not outstanding, there was definitely a lack of wow factor. I liked the colour swatches on one of the landing walls though... would look great on a piece of canvas on the wall.

Next up, we headed to The Swedish House. Furnished entirely by Ikea of course. Again, the house looked well designed from the outside, and the interior was well laid out, much better than the Santiago Town House. Now, as much as I like Ikea, and as clever as they are, I don't need to come to a big show to see an entirely Ikea interior, I can go to Ikea for that. This really was just an extension of their in-store room sets and apartment layouts. There was nothing wrong with the house at all and I'm sure lots of people came away with ideas for their own home, it just felt like such a wasted opportunity to use the plot to do something different, rather than a re-staging of something so many people have seen before. 

So, onto the Arts & Crafts House in collaboration with The Princes Trust. I wasn't holding out much hope for this one, as it's far too traditional for my taste, and while I was right about the traditional element, there was actually more to take away from this house than the others. Part of the trusts mission is to build using more natural and ecologically sound methods (this house is supposedly 70% more energy efficient than current standards require) to take on apprentices and keep traditional building methods alive and to promote good quality and the handmade. All of these aims are laudable and worthy of support. However, I think these techniques could be applied to more modern living, the Arts & Crafts House would only appeal to those who want to live in a place that looks like it's still int he Victorian era. This would have been a great place to showcase how traditional sensibilities could be applied in a more contemporary way. 

Still, there were some great elements here, the hand turned bowls in the kitchen were gorgeous, although none of the literature indicated who had made them. In one of the kids rooms, the 'Owls Of The British Isles' wallpaper by Abigail Edwards caught my eye, as did the porcelain Spring Butterflies light on the stair case, by Boatswain Lighting. These are great examples of the things the Ideal Home Show should be show casing. En masse, I found it all a bit too much, but take any of the elements and they would be at home in a contemporary house. The Princes house was well worth the visit, and a bit of a surprise.

Ideal Home magazines room sets are just next door to the Show Village (1L79). Some of the rooms, although very well designed, are not really relevant to renters, choosing new fitted kitchens and bathrooms are unfortunately out of the question for almost all of us. Still, the styling was good, if a little too 'finished'. I'd like to see something really shocking at the Ideal Home show, rooms that look like people live in them, furniture that wasn't all bought new, some real style. All of those things were sadly lacking from the frankly awful bedroom set (it's not the 90's anymore) but, the final room offered a glimpse in to what is possible at shows like this, it even had a vintage piece of furniture in it. This was the teenagers room at the end, complete with half eaten biscuits and banana peel on the coffee table, at last, signs of life!

This room had some great strong points, the floor lamp (£49 from Dwell) is a beautiful classic, the metal cabinet is a vintage Eames, and that side table is genius. Its £109.50 from Rockett St George and is the perfect space-saving hard working piece of furniture. Along with the playful C60 wallpaper from MiniModerns, this is what we should be seeing at the country's largest home exhibition, it's just a shame its confined to one small corner.

Also near the show village is the eye-catching Little Greene stand (1J93), specializing in eco-friendly, traditional paints and wallpapers. I've never used Little Greene products before so I was curious to have a look. The stand staff were very friendly and I picked up some paint charts and a free sample pot. Their colours are amazing, and they have a little booth on the wall so you can view how paint colours look under different lighting conditions. This is all really useful stuff, what isn't everyone else doing this? Some of the furniture in the Princes House was painted with Little Greene paints, so it's a great place to pick up ideas for sprucing up wooden frames and furniture in your own home.

On the subject of paint and paper, Dulux are also at the show (1K25) on hand for advice and free samples and if you head over to Wallpaper Direct (1J10) you can see large scale samples as well as picking up a bag with their spring brochure and paint charts.

There are lots of events across three theatres in the show (Celebrity Chefs Theatre, the How To Theatre and The Catwalk) I went to see Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowens 'Posh Clinic' which turned out to be part serious and part stand-up. He made some good points though, mainly about how it's time to make our homes our own and not worry about re-sale value and what estate agents say. His self-depreciation "I was never fashionable, other designers would cross the street" mixed with a dash of ego "I was going on about pattern years and years ago, I was just too ahead of my time" made for entertaining viewing plus he added a bit of social history about the discovery of purple dye before going off to sign a stack of his last book, 'Decorating'.

Still on the ground floor, there are a couple of other stands of note. Alison At Home (1G14) has four room sets on show. 'Palm Springs Boudoir' ' Nordic Glamour Kitchen' 'Modern Country Sitting Rooms' and 'Japanese Serene Bathroom'. I liked the kitchen for it's use of colour and simple styling (you could achieve this with the accessories alone) and the bedroom for it's classic colours and opulent fabrics, which are also easily achievable by the use of accessories.

On stand 1H25, Belle Interiors have French & Art Deco inspired accessories and furniture. Aflair (1K4) have more Art Deco mirrored furniture, as well as pieces in wood, upholstered chairs and an array of lovely accessories. Ayres & Graces on stand 1H3 have a stunning selection of rococo style mirrors and frames at special show prices, you can pick up a big floor standing bedroom mirror at a very reasonable price (about a third less that similar sizes on the high street) or some small frames from about £10.

The Naked Flame (1N25) sell bio fuel fire bowls and fires. They had some great designs on show at very very good show prices. Pick up a fire bowl for your patio or balcony or even a free standing fireplace, even renters can enjoy a real fire!

Oliver Bonas' The Velvet Chair Company are on stand 1L11, showcasing hand made British chairs and ottomans in a gorgeous array of rainbow colours. At £385 for a tub chair they are a good price for the quality and workmanship involved and will brighten up a corner of any room for many many years. They really are future heirlooms I think. The 'love tubs' are just big enough for two, or for use as a small sofa in really tiny spaces and I think one of the ottomans at the foot of the bed is the perfect place for storing bed linens, you could always pull it out in to the living room as extra seating for guests too.

Just near The Velvet Chair Company I snapped this gorgeous patchwork armchair, I don't know if it was a particular designer (there was no signage unfortunately) but Ginny Avison and Kelly Swallow both produce similar designs.

While we're on the subject of arm chairs, head over to Kit Stone (1M45 & 1M56) where you can win a completely gorgeous Amelia Night Sky armchair. It's so simple yet literally stopped me in my tracks as I walked past. They also have a wide range of other furniture on display.

Finally in the interiors section, head over to Decorexi on stand 1H1. This stand is so crammed full of things you really have to take the time to look properly and at first glance it was all too much and I nearly didn't stop. Among the kitsch items and the *shudders* 'shabby chic' however, there are some really good pieces. I love the leather armchair, repaired with an old bus blind (about £550), and I totally fell in love with the table top tripod light, an absolute steal at £95. They were also selling chrome hurricane lamps in a variety of sizes all at amazingly good show prices as well as candle holders, mirrors, clocks and some very lovely console tables.

Over on the other side of the ground floor is the Ideal Gardens section. Among the £7000 hot tubs, huge (expensive) patio sets and hunting lodges (yes, really) are some great suppliers of cool garden stuff, perfect for renters and city dwellers alike. Here's my pick of the best.

Garden Home (1C64) sell a range of planters that are great for renters. Their lightweight aluminium range means moving the pots is easy, as are their plastic pots. Don't be put off by the material though, they look very sophisticated and have a textured finish making them look more like black stone. I was particularly drawn to the slim, almost pebble shaped planters that would work even on a narrow balcony.

Right on the edge of the garden section are Todds Botanics (A49) who specialize in drought tolerant, hardy, exotic plants. On the stand you'll find olive trees, grasses, bamboo, bay trees and a variety of shrubs and a plant expert on hand for advice.

Luca Designs (1E80) have a selection of pots, cafe sets, ornaments and garden gifts and tools.

Finally, John Harris Products (1E49) get my vote for the most useful renters garden product I've ever seen called 'Clip Hang'. Manufactured by a small company, this kind of outstanding, incredibly useful product is exactly what I'd like to see more of at the show. The Clips come in a variety of shapes for fitting different pots to different parts of the garden. The one pictured hangs a standard terracotta pot over a fence post. There's no drilling involved, there's no damage to the fence or pot and it allows renters to invest in hardware they can take with them (not that these are expensive, the model shown was about £2-£3, or you can buy in packs from their website) Clip Hang manufacture different shaped holders to fit on concrete fence posts, drain pipes, solid posts, trellis, walls  even over garden taps meaning  that virtually any outside space can become a garden. Absolute genius.

Moving upstairs you'll find Ideal Woman (which I have to confess I didn't visit) and the Food & Housewares and Ideal Shopping sections, which I did.

Much of the shopping section is devoted to the usual show fayre, which I'm convinced people only buy at these places and would never consider purchasing from a high street retailer. Surprisingly, I wouldn't include the ubiquitous 'Ideal Home Show Wonder Mop/Broom' in that group though, I bought a garden broom from there many many years ago for a bargain price and it's still great for sweeping the patio. Anyway, amongst the dubious art and knick-knacks are some real gems.

The highlight of the Ideal Shopping section has to be The Princes Pavilion, featuring hand made crafts from the UK. Again, this is what we should be seeing more at the show, showcasing quality work from new and less well known designers. Particularly impressive are Eliza Jane Ceramics (2L9) which are absolutely beautiful, Kaylee Hibbert Textile Designs (2L10a) whose wallpaper panels are more like art and Button Fly Furniture (2M9) who sell good decoupage furniture (I know, who thought there was such a thing) or they can customize your own. They were also selling kits at their stand, for you to use at home. A great way to add colour and pattern to a mirror frame, old table or chair.

Other stands of note were Sass & Belle (2J16 & 2M18) for country/vintage accessories, Ma Maison (2K2) for a carefully curated selection of furniture and accessories and The Patchwork Quilt Co (2M11) for both traditional and contemporary quilts.

The Ideal Food section offers kitchenware, cooking equipment and food suppliers. If you're in the market for some new pans or knives, once again there are some great show offers on. Food wise, there are plenty of samples available and plenty of places to get a snack or a more substantial lunch, with gelato for dessert. There's a wide range of meat producers (this vegetarian isn't in a position to recommend any though!) wine & spirit companies, traditional sweet stalls and lots of delis of various types. My favourites from this section include the Snowdonia Cheese Company (2F75) whose wax wrapped roundels of cheese are the tastiest of the show. Again, there are show offers, so try before you buy! I recommend the Red Devil, Black Bomber and Green Thunder trio as well as my new favourite, cheese with chocolate bits. Speaking of which, Kraft Foods (2F105) have a big stand where you can sample their new Cadbury's flavour Philadelphia and vote on whether you think it's genius or madness (it's genius of course). Over at stand 2E36 you can sample Belvoir Fruit Farms delicious cordials and sparkling fruit drinks and pick up a case of flavours at a special price. Herbs & Spices (2D49) have a dizzying array of herbs and spices available in different weights, again, at show prices.

After a packed day, take the time to visit the six show gardens on the way out (it's not well advertized inside so we almost missed them). Six colleges were competing for Ideal Home Young Gardeners Of The Year award. Sponsored by The Princes Foundation they are of course quite 'county' and less urban, but they are all great designs with an emphasis on sustainability.

Overall, I'd say that it's worth the visit and despite the lack of new ideas in some areas, there are some really good things here. It's a good day out and if you're in the market for some new home wares, there are some great show bargains. It's a good place to pick up samples, charts and information and a bit of inspiration. Although some areas are less useful (the home improvements section for example) most of the rest of the show has something useful for renters. The layout is all colour coded so it's also easy to find your way around.

The show is on until the 1st April and open daily from 10 to 6 with late night Thursdays until 9pm. Tickets are £12 for adults on weekdays and £14 on weekends. 


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